If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the first episode and working your way forward. Of course, that's entirely your call.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Season 1, Episode 18: Vanessa's New Class

The writers, forever searching for a personality for Vanessa, have opted to make her something of an overachiever in this script, which is all about her advancement into an accelerated science class. I guess it makes sense. She's got three older siblings to try to steal attention from, but she's not the youngest and cutest, so she has to nag her parents and play clarinet and get good grades to secure whatever crumbs of affection she can come by. The rest of this episode, however, defies logic. To begin: how is she just now taking on this higher-level course? Isn't it midway through the school year? Also, since the whole crux of the story is that she puts in barely enough effort to get even decent marks, how is it that she was chosen to leap ahead in the first place? Whatever, I'm sure there's plenty of educational precedent for challenging students to excel by placing them in demanding environments. I'm not here to talk about that. My mediocre showing in school has left me here, writing another pro bono examination of televised costumes from a quarter century ago. It's sad how fulfilling I find it.

Getting her learn on.

It's worth noting that Vanessa's science project is, in fact, kind of busted. That's not what we're checking out right now, though. Let's talk about her dual-sweater situation here. The main reason I pulled this shot was so we could talk about color combination. I'm firmly behind the concept of using opposites to complement each other. I think blue and orange can pair to make a really wonderful outfit. But this particular blue and this particular orange aren't doing each other any favors, and the gray bands running over the edges of her cardigan are just making it worse. I would have preferred some sort of pattern thrown in somewhere instead of just solids all the way through. And no, patches do not count as patterns, especially if your patch is bright green, which completely doesn't go with any of the other things you're wearing. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that the insignia on her chest is some sort of Benevolent Order of Super-Smart Middle School Science Badasses crest that she's required to sport at all official science-ing events. Though really, if I were forced into such a situation, you know I'd build my entire outfit around that one patch. I would also fail right out of that class.

She keeps notes about major celestial bodies in her hair loaf.

Time for some other specifics about this look. It's tough to catch, because she's usually behind a table or something, but her skirt has this thin blue line down the side that ties in with the color of the cardigan. It's a nice idea, except that the skirt itself is completely atrocious. The material and fit make it look like a burlap sack. It's the dumpiest. Adding insult to injury, she went for athletic socks as an accessory. Please, Vanessa, don't just go to your closet and pull out everything that has blue in it. This is not how we dress ourselves in the adult world. The saving grace here is that she covers the whole mess with the truly sublime combination of periwinkle coat and hot pink scarf. Rewinding a bit, the orange ribbed sweater, while not necessarily a knockout, is a decent choice: it's rocking a punchy hue, and when she wears it on its own later, it actually looks kind of nice.

I feel like this facial expression shows up from her disproportionately often.

I'll offer my usual critique about the placement of the shoulder seam in relation to her physical shoulder, but it's not too flagrant; one could even argue that it's intentionally baggy, though an intentionally baggy garment serving as the lower layer to a cardigan is another fashion foul, so she loses either way. The point is: Vanessa's a mess this week, in every observable manner.

The textbooks are drug-free this week, to my knowledge.

The tough thing about coming back to this show week after week is coming back to the same pet peeves. It's hardly worth it to point out half the problems with this outfit, because I know I've basically trained you all to recoil in a Pavlovian sneer at the loafy polo collar oozing out of this sweater, or the sleeves that are forever being rolled up for some reason. Ignoring those challenges, I'll commend him for the heathery purple sweater that echoes the wonderful, similarly-toned cardigan sometimes worn by his father (and occasionally his mother). Beyond that, I don't have a great deal of commentary, because his jeans and accessories are so regimented that they may as well be a uniform. It's like on The Simpsons when Lisa wears those pearls in every single episode. That gigantic watch is just painted on, huh?

"What, you thought I would get rid of this after you scorned it last time? Hell no."

Here, we have a special situation. This blouse has been worn before, but it is also markedly different. Take a look at the plane shirt as it appeared in episode five:

Memories... light the corners of my mind...

It's not immediately obvious if the change was intentional or not, but clearly someone washed this garment with bleach, ridding it of much of its color. In some ways, I don't mind the choice: when you have a pattern this bold and busy, maybe it's wise to scale back a little on some of the other distractions. The starkness of the new version has a sort of art deco quality that makes it seem more austere. Keeping the collar down is also pretty much always the right way to go. I wish I could say that the bleaching saved this item from the trash bin, but I still dislike it overall. I enjoy when Denise goes strange on us, but not all strange is created equal. We should also talk about how dumb that shoulder sash looks, especially from behind.

Just walk away, Bonet.

So dumb, right? There also appears to be some sort of sisterly competition over who can wear the dumpier bottoms. Denise might be winning: the illusory girth she's throwing down is pretty impressive. Vanessa's gonna have to blump up if she wants to step to this. Final note: check those boots. Are they brown? I'm pretty sure they're brown. This is elementary, people: if the rest of your outfit is black, don't wear a brown shoe, even if it's dark brown. Some judgmental bitch (like myself) will clock that business and shame you all over the internet.

"Suspendered Animation" would be a great caption if this were an animated GIF.

I will not, however, shame Cliff, who is doing just fine in my book. It's kind of funny that the Cosby sweater became such a cultural phenomenon. Someone looking over only this first season's fashion choices would probably have selected suspenders as Dr. Huxtable's most obvious stylistic marker. I love the show's liberal application of suspenders and think it's sad that they're not given their due, historically speaking. People should remember. I mean, look at how this average olive shirt with unremarkable eggplant stripes becomes a moment of splendor when juxtaposed with two lilac straps. The whole look goes from a C- to an A. Sure, one could find fault with the khaki pleated trousers he's always falling back on, but hey, let's be generous and give credit where credit is due.


The suspenders even dress up this plain long-sleeved tee. Without them, this look would plummet into the unacceptable range. Their presence, however, redeems the whole getup.

The Little Engine That Couldn't

Lest I get called out for lying down on the job, I'll mention briefly that Cliff attempts (and fails) to repair the dishwasher. There's some sort of point apparently being made about admitting one's limitations, though it's the complete opposite point implied by Vanessa's plotline. Regardless, the only moral to my version of this story is: don't wear this. Like, maybe if you're fixing an appliance, but certainly do not look to the above screencap as an example of something to be displayed outside the safety of one's own home.

Such range of emotion. It's like a master class in TV acting.

My endless respect and admiration for Clair Huxtable lead me to give her a little leeway here. The ensemble is not without its idiosyncrasies, but it's fun and charming. In terms of fit, she's exactly where she ought to be: the skirt is tailored perfectly to her figure, and the shirt has just the right amount of give. Her palette is tasteful; I don't see anything outstanding happening here, but the slightly greenish dark taupe down below serves as a delightful foundation for the gold and maroon stripes up above. I will say that the pattern of her blouse is a little hard for me to follow. The still frames almost make it look iridescent, but in motion there's no shimmer. Rather, it looks flat, but the colors form a gradient in a way that borders on unintentional, as though maybe parts of the fabric faded in the wash or something. I like that the shades grow brighter toward the center, allowing the shadowy sides to fade away with a sort of slimming effect, not that Phylicia Rashad needs help in that area. But there's something just a little wonky about the shading of her top that I don't totally adore.

Last week a joint, this week a pipe... Clair needs our help, y'all.

Her hair here is mighty large. She's like one of those anime characters who puffs up when angered. Anyhow, she's flaunted this scarf and coat before, but I thought I'd point them out because I like them both. Of all her purples, this is the best: so rich, so vibrant, so radiant, so right.

As always, I've saved the guest stars for the end.

Here, Vanessa presents her teacher with a box of regret.

William Christian had a couple lines as Mr. Robinson, Vanessa's science teacher. If you're familiar with any of his other work, it's probably his recurring role on All My Children as Police Chief Derek Frye. While I'm sure he looks wonderful in uniform, he's not doing badly in teacher drag, either. We don't get a particularly helpful view of the pants, but they seem classic and confident. The sweater is also terrific; conservative but still fun, with just a hint of patterning across the middle and a killer collar.

His soulful, sensitive eyes say, "You're getting a failing grade on this project."

I want a sweater with a collar like that. To offset the oatmeal wool, he took a risk by matching his pink shirt with a red tie. I like that. We're learning some mighty stylish lessons from this professor. Advanced class, indeed. His students, however, are in need of as much help as they can get. There were several featured in the episode, but I'm going to restrict our examination to one of them. It's better this way. I know you have things to do besides analyze some preteen's corduroys.

There's always one perky know-it-all. Sit down, already.

After several appearances as Janet Meiser, Pam Potillo seems to have quit acting. I hope it wasn't because they forced her to wear more puffy-sleeved, ruffle-fronted plaid farmgirl shirts. The overall color scheme is about right for a girl her age: the pastel pants are fun, the white belt gives her hipster cred, and the various maroons and teals and yellows in the plaid end up reaching harmony against all odds. But the shirt has a frumpiness that I can't get past. I'm having trouble placing precisely why it doesn't work; it's a little frontier woman for me. This came close to being cute, but then overshot the mark.

Well, that about does it for me. Tune in next week for episode 19. If you don't Clair will give you one of these:

Straight-up mean muggin'.


  1. Seriously, how can I buy this in a dead-tree version for holiday presents? Also, maybe I can help with animated gifs? Thank you for another delightful post!

  2. I know this post is almost a year old, but i'm reading your blog backwards. This plane shirt Denise is wearing is one of the most bizarre mysteries you have stumbled upon. I don't think they washed it with bleach. The changes are way too drastic. You'll notice the stars actually have lost their light-colored outline to become completely solid, dark red. The parts of the planes that are now white were previously the darkest red planes on the shirt. Why wouldn't the lighter pink planes be the ones to turn white?

    I think they must have bought two color versions of the same shirt, or else they actually painted or somehow changed the design by hand. But why for such an ugly shirt? Its a shirt with giant planes! And why have I spent 20+ minutes obsessing about this plane shirt??

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  4. This blog is SO funny! Since I am a African American woman who WAS a little Black girl that watched this show every week closely studying the fashion and hairstyles of The Huxtables and the folks that inhabited their universe -- I find your take on everything super comical, fashion tea! The cultural roadblocks that you've run into amuse me as much as the witty commentary! I'm so happy to have this blog to read an relax to.